Macarons from Panna Dolce (photo: Joseph Storch)
Did you hear the news? Beverly Hills' favorite cupcake spot - Sprinkles - just opened up in the Gold Coast. It's so big, Bill and Giuliana Rancic were at the opening! (OMG) Honestly, after Sugar Bliss, More, The Cupcake Counter, Molly's and Swirlz (and the constantly mobile Flirty Cupcake van), even I'm getting a little cupcake weary. All of the cupcake chatter is like frosting from a Jewel birthday cake - it makes my mouth pucker with too much sugar. I would suggest you opt instead for the next wave of sweet supremacy in Chicago: the humble macaron. Now notice I didn't say "macaroon." That, my friend, would be the sickly-sweet golfball-sized mound of toasted coconut and sugar they make us eat at Passover. A macaron, on the other hand, is something more delicate, more refined. It requires a ridiculously precise recipe that must constantly change, depending on the ambient temperature. It requires delicate egg whites, beaten to a pulp (or rather, soft peaks). It requires some food coloring, but most important, it requires a command of the not-too-sweet gooey fillings that must echo the shell's crisp exterior, providing a burst of flavor in each of the limited bites.
You can find mind-blowing macarons in London and Paris, at the world-famous Ladurée stores; Pierre Hermé is another solid pastry shop in Paris with some of the best macarons I've ever had. ‚ But in America, its taken awhile to get here. ‚ While macarons have been the defacto wedding favor on the East and West Coasts for some time now, they are finally making inroads here. There are macarons aplenty these days, especially if you happen to shop at Bittersweet, Pierrot Gourmet or Vanille Patisserie. There are even two local businesses that focus primarily on these little treats:
Panna Dolce and Macaron Chicago. Panna Dolce's macarons are available at the Goddess and Grocer, and through their website; Macaron Chicago has a stand at the Logan Square Farmer's Market every other Sunday; you can also just contact them on their website. Some of the flavors have moved well past the traditional rose petal or chocolate. There was a fantastic salted caramel I picked up this past Sunday from the Macaron Chicago booth in Logan Square. Wish I could have savored it a tad longer.